Atg101 is an essential component of the autophagy-initiating ULK complex in higher eukaryotes, but it is absent from the functionally equivalent Atg1 complex in budding yeast. Here, we report the crystal structure of the fission yeast Atg101-Atg13 complex. Atg101 has a Hop1, Rev7 and Mad2 (HORMA) architecture similar to that of Atg13. Mad2 HORMA has two distinct conformations (O-Mad2 and C-Mad2), and, intriguingly, Atg101 resembles O-Mad2 rather than the C-Mad2-like Atg13. Atg13 HORMA from higher eukaryotes possesses an inherently unstable fold, which is stabilized by Atg101 via interactions analogous to those between O-Mad2 and C-Mad2. Mutational studies revealed that Atg101 is responsible for recruiting downstream factors to the autophagosome-formation site in mammals via a newly identified WF finger. These data define the molecular functions of Atg101, providing a basis for elucidating the molecular mechanisms of mammalian autophagy initiation by the ULK complex.